By: Spencer Neff
April 15, 2021
Ahead of this weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, IndyCar1909 offers up the first edition of “Rewind” for 2021. The subject of this week’s edition is the 2015 race at Barber Motorsports Park.
In this race, the eventual winner began a stretch that sent his career on an even further upward trajectory.
For the fifth straight race, dating back to the 2014 finale at Auto Club Speedway, Team Penske swept the front row, with Helio Castroneves and Will Power leading the field to green. In qualifying
Their newest driver Simon Pagenaud lined up third. Points leader Juan Pablo Montoya would start a distant 15th on the grid, behind his three teammates.
On the start, Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing’s Josef Newgarden made his way up to second as Lap 2 began. During the first 19 laps, Castroneves continued to lead the way until the first caution flag of the afternoon flew for debris in Turn 4.
Toward the end of the caution, Newgarden was able to usurp the lead from Pagenaud, who had taken over during the opening round of pit stops.
Newgarden was able to maintain his lead until Lap 34, when Stefano Coletti and James Jakes tangled in Turn 5, bringing out the second caution of the day. Graham Rahal took the lead from Newgarden during the yellow flag and held on for 12 laps, when the second round of pit stops began.
Sebastien Bourdais, James Hinchcliffe and Montoya all took turns at the lead before Newgarden cycled back to the front on Lap 51. On Lap 62, Long Beach winner Scott Dixon made his way to the lead. Rahal led five more laps after Dixon’s two.
With 20 laps to go, Newgarden took the lead and never looked back. After leading 46 of 90 laps (more than double the 21 laps he’d led in his 54 previous career starts) on the 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course in Birmingham, Alabam, Newgarden earned his first career INDYCAR win.
It was also the first for CFH Racing since Texas Motor Speedway in 2014 and first for Sarah Fisher as Team Owner since Kentucky Speedway. All Previous wins from the teams had been from Ed Carpenter. Rahal would finish 2.206 seconds behind, with Dixon in third.
Montoya finished 14th to Castroneves’ 15th and maintained his lead of three points.
Following three seasons of promise but little to show in the way of results, Newgarden’s first win propelled him to a breakout campaign where he added a win in Toronto. A year later, he overcame injuries from a crash at Texas Motor Speedway to win in dominating fashion at Iowa Speedway, leading 282 of 300 laps.
By 2017, the Hendersonville, Tennessee- native earned his second win at his “home race”, his first victory with Team Penske. Later that year, Newgarden earned his first tile. Newgarden won at Barber from the pole in 2018.
While Rahal finished second to Pagenaud in 2016 and started second to teammate and eventual race winner Takuma Sato in 2019, the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver has yet to reach the top step at barber.
2015 did come as a breakout year for the second-generation racer as he earned two victories and finished a career-best fourth in the standings.
Two weeks later, Dixon ended Penske’s front row lockout streak when he lined up alongside Power for the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis. A week later he earned his second pole for the Indianapolis 500.
Following a thrilling effort to win the season finale, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dixon earned his fourth INDYCAR title. In the five years since, he has added two more. This weekend, Dixon will also go for his first pole position and victory at Barber.
Header Image By Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR